Tuesday 03 February 2015
Latest sustainable development news from Australia and around the world.
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Patagonia: The Incomparable Authentic Brand
A few years back, I attended a conscious capitalism brainstorm at the Ventura, California, headquarters of Patagonia. Patagonia is an incredible company. Founded by Yvon Chouinard as a means to supply himself and his “dirtbag climber” friends with quality equipment, it has grown into a global brand without sacrificing its environmental, design, quality or ethical business ideals.
As part of my visit, I did a tour and met some of the employees. I have never come across a more enthusiastic, intelligent, genuine, committed bunch. These guys were off the proverbial charts. I was awed. I felt envious. I began to suspect some kind of smart and happy juice in the water supply. Even in that group of cheerful overachievers, one person stood out. Chipper Bell, our guide for the company tour. Chipper bore more than a passing resemblance to the dude in “The Big Lebowski,” from his insanely laid-back demeanor and Jeff Bridges looks to his cartoon California accent. As he toured us through the company, however, it became apparent there was more to Chipper than met the eye.
Energy and Climate Change
Climate change mitigation’s best-kept secret – capture methane
At Blue Spruce Farm in Bridport, Vt., the black-and-white dairy cows are used to the routine. In what looks like a choreographed dance, 1,400 milk cows delicately step over the scrapers that run along the concrete floors and collect their manure, which goes into a huge digester capable of holding 21 days’ worth of waste. Inside, highly flammable methane gas is built up under low pressure and then burned in a 600-kilowatt generator, with the capacity of powering 400 homes.
Blue Spruce doesn’t have to capture the methane, but taking that approach has turned waste into a profit center, bringing in a premium price for energy. Ernie Audet, one of the owners, says “cow power” has become an integral part of the dairy operation. “We wouldn’t run the farm without it,” he says, adding that after six years in place the $1.5 million digester was close to paying for itself. At least a dozen other Vermont farms are also selling cow power to eager buyers.
Who’s been affected by Australia’s extreme heat? Everyone
Australia has been hit by two years of heat: 2013 was the hottest ever recorded and 2014 wasn’t far behind, taking third place. The country has also sweltered through several significant heatwaves, and, though you might not have noticed them so much, episodes of unusual winter warmth too. We regularly hear about the strong likelihood of a warmer future climate and the resulting plausible impacts. But occasionally we, as a community living on an already dry and warm continent, would do well to review what is happening right now. The past two years have given us the chance to do that. Who (and what) has been hit by this heat, and how? The short answer is “everyone”, but in the interest of thoroughness let’s break it down a bit further.
Just not cricket – how climate change will make sport more risky
Sport is fundamental to Australia’s society, culture and economy. But how would we cope when the rising heat threatens some of our most beloved pastimes? A new report from the Climate Institute urges sports administrators to take the issue of heat stress seriously and to take steps to safeguard players, both professional and grassroots, from the health dangers.
Melting glaciers leading to Iceland rising, according to scientists
The Earth’s crust under Iceland is ‘rebounding’ as climate change leads to the ice caps on the island melting, according to research conducted by the University of Arizona. The paper argues that the “current fast uplift” of the Icelandic crust is a result of accelerated melting of the island’s glaciers and coincides with warming that began around three decades ago. The scientists add that some sites in Iceland are moving upward by as much as 1.4 inches each year.
14 of the 15 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000, UN says
Fourteen of the 15 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000, according to the UN World Meteorological Organisation, as rising carbon emissions continue to trap heat and drive climate change. The WMO’s new analysis narrowly places 2014 as the hottest recorded since 1850, as have recent analyses from other organisations. The WMO analysis is particularly authoritative as it brings together a number of leading temperature records, as well as alternative ways of estimating the warmth of the globe.
Environment and Biodiversity
European Tree of the Year competition – in pictures
France has a ‘beard tree’, UK ‘Major Oak’, Czech Republic has a ‘dragon pine’ and Italy has a majestic olive tree that is 2,000-year-old, then there is the ‘nail tree’ of Belgium and Estonia’s oak that is slap bang in the middle of a football pitch. There are more, and all are fascinating specimen of nature – old and ancient, silent witnesses of history, each with a fascinating story behind it. Below is the selection of some of the top trees of Europe, you can vote your favourite for the European tree of the year
12 incredible UNESCO sites you’ve probably never heard of
The Great Barrier Reef and Grand Canyon are among the best known of almost 200 natural sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Arguably as spectacular, many more remain unknown or obscure to a large percentage of world travelers. Here are 12 amazing UNESCO sites you might not even know exist.
Economy and Business
2015: the year of hyper-transparency in global business
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has declared 2015 “the year of sustainability”. With landmark global conferences on sustainable development and climate change ahead, and new UK legislation to tackle modern-day slavery also on its way, this year is set to be pivotal. One effect of the global focus on sustainable behaviour will be to stimulate unprecedented demand for hyper-transparent business supply chains. Our experience tells us that ignorance is not bliss: without full transparency it’s impossible to gain an understanding of a business and its impact. Many of the core benefits of increased transparency become apparent when its absence is considered. How can you address problems with your goods if you don’t know who is supplying you?
Could floating lasers hold the key to offshore wind cost savings?
The ‘world’s largest and most challenging’ trials of a new generation of floating wind measurement technologies that could slash the cost of developing offshore wind farms in deep water were announced today. Up to five different offshore wind measurement devices will be subjected to an extensive testing programme designed to assess their data collection capability and robustness when set against the state-of-the-art meteorological masts at North Sea Round 3 sites IJmuiden, Neart na Gaoithe, and East Anglia. The trials will be carried out over the course of this year as part of the Carbon Trust’s government-back offshore Wind Accelerator (OWA) programme.
Politics and Society
‘Suppressed’ EU report could have banned harmful pesticides worth billions
As many as 31 pesticides with a value running into billions of pounds could have been banned because of potential health risks, if a blocked EU paper on hormone-mimicking chemicals had been acted upon, the Guardian has learned. The science paper, seen by the Guardian, recommends ways of identifying and categorising the endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that scientists link to a rise in foetal abnormalities, genital mutations, infertility, and adverse health effects ranging from cancer to IQ loss. Commission sources say that the paper was buried by top EU officials under pressure from big chemical firms which use EDCs in toiletries, plastics and cosmetics, despite an annual health cost that studies peg at hundreds of millions of euros.
Obama Proposes $4 Billion Bonus for States Beating Climate Goals
The Obama administration is proposing spending $4 billion to reward states that exceed cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions, and wants Congress to back steeper royalty rates for oil-and-gas drilling on public land. In a mix of measures likely to be greeted skeptically by the Republican majority in Congress, President Barack Obama’s 2016 budget calls for continued tax breaks for wind and solar energy, investments in Appalachian communities facing a steep drop in coal-industry employment and $1.29 billion in aid to developing nations to help them fight climate change.
NSW signs up to global climate group
The Baird government has moved to burnish its climate change credentials, becoming Australia’s first conservative government to sign up to The Climate Group. NSW will join South Australia and Tasmania as the only Australian states to be members of the international non-profit organisation, which brings business, governments and communities together to promote renewable energy and cut carbon emissions blamed for global warming. Both SA and Tasmania signed up under Labor-led governments. “We believe that sustainable economic growth and environmental conservation are intrinsically linked aspirations,” Rob Stokes, Environment Minister, said. “We are already working hard to make sure that there are no barriers to businesses making decisions that environmentally, and economically, make sense.”
NSW gives green light to two big coal mine expansions
The NSW Planning Assessment Commission has given conditional approval for large extensions of two coal mines north-west of Sydney, adding potentially 31 million tonnes of extra coal output a year. The PAC on Monday said it had approved the expansion of the Moolarben Coal Project north-east of Mudgee, potentially more than doubling approved annual output from the site’s mines to 28 million tonnes from 12 million tonnes. The partly open-cut expansion, running for 24 years, would have “significant economic benefits”, the commission said. The expansion of the Moolarben mine, 80 per cent owned by YanCoal Australia, will result in 1534 hectares of land being cleared, 123 hectares of which are deemed to be endangered ecological communities. About 148 known Aboriginal sites are also likely to be directed affected, the commission said in its final report.
In poor countries, companies step in to fill gaps left by agricultural nonprofits
Five years ago, Mozambique’s poultry farmers had to import almost all the soy they used to feed their birds. There simply weren’t enough domestic growers cultivating the crop. Washington DC-based nonprofit TechnoServe stepped in… In total, the project got 30,000 new smallholder farmers growing and selling soy, said Brent Habig, TechnoServe’s regional director for west and southern Africa. “It was a large-scale transformation of smallholder agriculture in Mozambique,” he said. This underutilization of farmers isn’t an isolated problem: in developing countries like Mozambique, some 2.5 billion small farmers subsist on less than $4 a day, according to a recently released report by anti-poverty nonprofit Acumen and consulting firm Bain & Co. Many of these farmers are geographically isolated and lack access to the information and capital they need to make their farms more productive and financially stable.